Sixties drug guru Timothy Leary dies at 75

Leary's home page
A February interview with Leary

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Timothy Leary, the Harvard professor turned guru of LSD who encouraged the '60s generation to ''turn on, tune in, drop out,'' died today of cancer. He was 75.

Leary, who had turned his battle with terminal cancer into a public event, died at his hilltop Beverly Hills home, said Carol Rosin, a friend for 25 years.

Fans could follow his deteriorating health through his site on the World Wide Web. Last month, he said he was exploring the idea of allowing users of the computer communications network to watch as he committed suicide.

In the end, though, he died in his sleep surrounded with family and friends, Rosin said. His home page announced the death with a simple ''Timothy has passed.''

It also said his last words were ''why not'' and ''yeah.''

''He had been alert for the last few days -- he'd been traveling with one foot in this world and one foot in the other world,'' Rosin said. ''Until yesterday, he was moving around in an electric wheelchair, but he was getting weaker.''

His life seldom failed to polarize two generations -- the parents and flower children of the 1960s. To some of the most gifted members of America's counterculture, he was host, confidant and drug supplier.

The popular '70s British band The Moody Blues even put him in their song ''Legend of a Mind,'' singing, ''Timothy Leary's dead. Oh, no no no...''. After he fell ill, they retooled the lyric, ''Timothy Leary lives,'' and sang it to him over the phone. He said it moved him to tears.

But for all his popularity with some baby boomers, Leary's activities cost him his Harvard job and landed him in prison for a time.

It was in 1959 that Leary joined the Harvard faculty as a psychology professor. There, he met professor Richard Alpert, who later change his name to Baba Ram Dass, and began a series of controlled experiments with psychedelic drugs.

Four years later, Leary and Alpert were fired for using undergraduate students in the tests.

The pair retired to Millbrook Estate, a 63-room mansion in upstate New York once owned by the Mellon family. William Burroughs, Abbie Hoffman, Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsberg among others came and went, all united by a desire to experiment with drugs.

But ingesting mass quantities of LSD and bragging about it did not endear Leary to members of the Establishment, especially the ones with badges.

And for the next 20 years, he had run-ins with the law.

In 1970, he escaped from the California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo, where he was serving a 10-year sentence for marijuana possession. His bust-out was aided by the Weather Underground and his third wife, Rosemary.

Leary and his wife bounced from country to country. In Algeria, they took up residence-in-exile with Eldridge Cleaver, who ultimately kidnapped his guests after a political disagreement.

The Learys escaped, fleeing to Switzerland. U.S. agents eventually caught up with Leary in 1973 in Afghanistan, and he was imprisoned in California.

After his release in 1976, Leary's life became a circuitous journey of lecture tours, experiments with stand-up comedy, writing books, an obsession with cyberspace and dabbling in the Hollywood party scene.

Some accused him of selling out when he began a lecture tour in 1982 with Watergate villain G. Gordon Liddy. It was much-hyped -- and much-ridiculed.

The criticism left Leary unfazed, though.

''I am a very courageous person,'' he once told The Associated Press. ''And I am a very self-confident person. To be self-confident, you have to be (expletive) intelligent.''

Born in Springfield, Mass., in 1920 to a dentist and schoolteacher, Leary attended West Point, went into the Army, and earned an undergraduate psychology degree at the University of Alabama while in the service.

After earning a master's degree from Washington State University and a doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, he went to work at Harvard.

''I wanted to be a philosopher. Aristotle, Plato, Voltaire and all these guys who were out there in nirvana,'' he said. ''I discovered as I grew up that I was different. Life was to have adventures and quests and Huckleberry Finn and the notion of being ... of living a life of exploration and adventure.''

At times, it was tragic as well as adventurous.

Leary married five times. His first wife committed suicide in 1959. The couple had two children. The son, who felt abandoned by his father's ribald lifestyle, was estranged from Leary. The daughter, accused as an adult of shooting her boyfriend, hanged herself at the Sybil Brand Institute for Women in 1990.

Those incidents, Leary said, were the only regrets of his life.

After he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January 1995, he focused on dying.

''I was really thrilled because I knew that this was the beginning of the most fascinating part of my life,'' he told the AP.

He said he was not afraid of dying -- just afraid of pain and of being helpless. He used drugs right up to the end ''for medicinal purposes,'' his friends said.

''No. 1, we're all going to die,'' he said. ''And we're all going to get senile, if we're lucky enough to hang around that long. So there's nothing to be afraid of.

''Some guy at a party came up to me and said "Good luck on your death.' And that's one of the most powerful things that anyone has ever said to me,'' Leary said. ''It implies "Have a good life. Have a good death.'''

Rosin said his remains would be launched into space in September or October, but plans had yet to be finalized.

''He was so excited ... He was literally jumping up and down in his wheelchair when we told him we had made the preparations,'' Rosin said.

Photos by Associated Press

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